Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. Michael’s on the Heights, Worcester, MA.
"Here am I; send me!"
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I want to thank Deacon Dave Woessner for inviting me to preach and celebrate. I am the Missioner for Creation Care in this diocese, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to protect the Earth. And what a wonderful day to proclaim God’s love for Creation: Trinity Sunday! Every year, on Trinity Sunday we focus our thoughts on God, that sacred Mystery that creates and redeems and sustains all things and whom we traditionally name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
It took a long time, and many years of controversy, for the Church to develop its understanding of the Holy Trinity. After Jesus lived, died and rose again, his followers searched the Scriptures for clues about the nature of God. They examined their own life of prayer, and they reflected on the experience of prophets and mystics like Isaiah, who, as we heard in this morning’s first reading, was given a vision of God that surely changed his life. In Isaiah’s vision, he sees “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty” (Isaiah 6:1). God’s glory so surpasses and overflows the sacred space that just the “hem” of God’s robe fills the entire temple. Then Isaiah sees winged seraphs, and he hears them singing back and forth to each other in words that we’ve included in our Eucharist down through the ages, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Isaiah is overcome with awe. He feels small and unworthy in the face of such majesty. “Woe is me!” he cries. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). We can imagine his amazement. When our eyes are opened to the presence of the Divine, we feel humbled, awe-struck, mortal, and small. We experience our complete dependence on a power greater than ourselves. Yet at the very same time, by the mercy of God we also find ourselves beloved, forgiven, lifted up, set free. That’s what Isaiah experiences: a seraph plucks a burning coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth, as if burning away Isaiah’s guilt and melting away everything in him that is less than love. After that holy encounter Isaiah hears God speaking in his depths. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replies without hesitation or reserve, without holding back. “Here am I,” he answers. “Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Being touched by God’s presence evokes in Isaiah a wholehearted and joyful response. Count me in! I’m yours! I want to give myself to you just as you have given yourself to me.
Biblical accounts of this sort of encounter contributed to the thinking of the scholars and bishops who pondered the mystery of God’s nature. I am grateful for their careful analysis as they gradually shaped the doctrine of the Trinity. It matters how we think about God. But there are limits to what our intellects can do. We will never “figure out” God, as if God were an object that we can separate from other objects and then dissect and probe, as we might study a distant star or a close-up specimen in a laboratory. God is not an object at all, but a mysterious Presence that abides within and beyond all things; not another being alongside many beings, but the very Ground of being; not a big, omnipotent Man in the Sky but a dynamic communion of relationship marked by self-giving love. We will never understand the Trinity from the outside, by thinking about it, but only from the inside, by experiencing it. As St. Augustine put it long ago, “We come to God by love, not by navigation.” And he describes the Trinity very simply as the Lover, the Beloved, and the love that flows between.
Step into that flow of love, as Isaiah did, and we are caught up in a love affair that has been going on since before time began. The divine Mystery that we call “God” is an ongoing exchange of love between God the Father – the Lover, the Creator – and God the Son, the Beloved. Flowing between them is the never-ending love of the Holy Spirit. God is one, and yet God is also three, a dynamic relationship, a giving and receiving of love. When the early Councils of the Church debated the nature of God, they came up with an image of the Trinity as a dance. The word in Greek is perichoresis and it means a “dance-around” of love. Imagine that! At the center of reality, a dance of love is in full swing! And we, too, are a perichoresis because we are created in the image and likeness of the Trinity.
Jesus came to invite us to join the dance. He was completely caught up in a love affair with God, his beloved abba, which is the Aramaic word for Father. Through the Holy Spirit, our counselor and comforter, our advocate and guide who leads us into all truth (John 16:13), we, too, are drawn into the flow of love between God the Father (or Mother) of our souls, and God the Son. As we heard in the reading from Romans, when we turn to God and cry “Abba! Father!” it is God’s own Spirit that is praying within us, “bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). God is not just “out there” but also “in here,” not just beyond us but also within us and among us, weaving us together in love.
Trinity Sunday reminds us that we live in the midst of a great love affair going on between God and God’s Creation. Divine love has no limit. It embraces not only human beings but also all beings (Genesis 9:12). And the love of God being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) gives us strength to protect an imperiled world and to work for its healing and transformation.
Being rooted in the love of God gives us a foundation from which to address the urgent issues of our day. Of all the challenges we face, climate change is the one that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I know that some people are very concerned about climate change, and some people less so. As I see it, climate change is the moral issue of our time. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are telling us with increasing alarm that climate change is real, it is happening now, and for the most part it is caused by us human beings. Of course there has always been some natural variability in the planet’s average temperature, but ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been forcing the climate to change in a way that human beings have never experienced before. In just two centuries – only a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at a level that Homo sapiens has never experienced before.
This month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that for the first time in human history the global level of carbon dioxide has topped 400 parts per million, reaching a level that hasn't been seen in about 2 million years. For now the air is still breathable, and for now your life and mine will go on. But what’s so worrisome to scientists is that this process is happening so fast. Already we’ve shot well past 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere is accelerating at a record pace, one hundred times faster than natural rises in the past.
Already oceans are heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” Here in New England, extreme weather events have increased over 70% in recent years.
So when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s not just about polar bears anymore. It’s about saving a habitable world for our children and our children’s children. It’s about finding our moral compass and deciding what kind of world we want to inhabit. The average worldwide temperature is rising, and if we simply stick to business as usual and keep to our present course – if we simply keep carrying out our usual daily activities in our usual carbon-intensive way – then within two, three, four generations we could raise average global temperatures to a level that would make the world very difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit.
How does the Holy Spirit call us to respond as the web of life unravels before our eyes? In a situation that speaks so much of death and despair, it is deeply reassuring, even necessary, to ground our selves again in the dynamic, living presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet may be unstoppable, but so, too, is the love of God. We take heart from that unstoppable love. We know that God is with us. We know that when we rise up to heal God’s Creation, we are becoming the people that God created us to be: people who bless and heal the Earth, people who refuse to settle for business as usual.
Scientists have done their work. Now it’s up to us to bear witness to the love of God. And that’s just what’s happening in religious communities around the world, especially now, as we look ahead to the crucial U.N. climate talks that will take place in Paris this December. This spring our Presiding Bishop declared that denying the reality of human-caused climate change is immoral. This summer Pope Francis will release a much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, an important teaching about the moral urgency of tackling this crisis. Meanwhile, one by one religious groups are starting to divest – that is, to sell off their holdings of stocks and bonds – from fossil fuels, arguing that if it is immoral to burn up the planet, surely it is immoral to profit from that burning.
A wave of religious activism, including, in some cases, civil disobedience, is beginning to sweep the country, as religious leaders and institutions start to speak out that climate change is not just a scientific issue, not just economic issue, not just a political issue, but also a moral issue. For I ask you – is it ethical to ruin the world for our children and grandchildren, and for generations yet unborn? Do we have no moral responsibility for the cascade of extinctions now underway among our brother and sister species, in large part because of climate change? Are we willing to stand idly by and devastate the lives of the poor, who suffer first and hardest from the effects of climate change? Are we willing to thumb our noses at our Creator, who entrusted the Earth to our care and to whom the Creation ultimately belongs (Psalm 24:1)? Will we refuse to bear witness in our lives that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)?
For more and more of us, the answer, thank God, is No. We want to be faithful to Jesus. We want the love of God that is pouring into our hearts to be expressed in how we treat each other and how we treat the Earth. And there is so much we can do. As individuals, we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, and quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room, maybe eat local, organic, and less meat-centered foods, and support local farms and land trusts. I hope that you will form a “green team” in this parish, and I’ve put a signup sheet in the back of church for anyone who would like to help form one. I hope that some of you will sign up to receive emails from our local grassroots climate action group, 350Mass.org. I hope that some of you will sign up to join a network of people across the diocese who care about Creation. I’d be glad to support you in any way I can.
With the blessing of God the Father, in the presence and power of the risen Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, our churches can become centers of prayer and action for a more sustainable, just and prosperous world. God is murmuring in our hearts, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and God yearns for our reply, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).